Rating: Doctor Who, Season 7

We’re back at it, rewatching and rating season 7 of new-series Doctor Who. Here’s our take on this season’s episodes:

  1. “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” – 1.5
  2. “Asylum of the Daleks” – 6
  3. “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” – 5
  4. “A Town Called Mercy” – 5
  5. “The Power of Three” – 2
  6. “The Angels Take Manhattan” – 3
  7. “The Snowmen” – 6.5
  8. “The Bells of Saint John” – 6.5
  9. “The Rings of Akhaten” – 3
  10. “Cold War” – 5
  11. “Hide” – 6.5
  12. “Journey to the Center of the Tardis” – 2
  13. “The Crimson Horror” – 4
  14. “Nightmare in Silver” – 4
  15. “The Name of the Doctor” – 3

The average rating for this season is an unimpressive 4.2, a slight comedown from season 6’s 4.4, though better than season 5’s 3.7. On the whole, this season just feels half-baked. There are some great ideas here that are just wasted on meandering, unfocused, episodes. An evil living sun! A Martian warrior on a Soviet submarine at the height of the cold war! Dinosaurs on a freakin’ spaceship! All of these ideas must have sounded great when first pitched, but the episodes developed from them just feel like underdeveloped first drafts. There are also some episodes that start out with great potential and then just flop. Mysterious black cubes appear all over the world and no one knows what they do! A pulp crime novel predicts the future! Despite their promising starts, these episodes just fizzle out in the end. Many of these episodes feel like they could have been standouts if more attention had been paid to developing the script.

At the bottom of the heap this time around is the Christmas episode “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe,” at 1.5, about the Doctor trying to inject some delight into the lives of a grieving family by giving the children a magical trip to a winter wonderplanet. This episode’s problems are many, including misplaced comedy, uninteresting characters, and mediocre child acting. The biggest problems, though, run deeper. The whimsy is forced, and the story never quite decides how close it wants to hew to the C. S. Lewis original. Unlike some of this season’s other disappointing episodes, it’s hard to see this one’s problems being solved with another draft or two.

For best episodes of the season, it’s a three-way tie among “The Snowmen,” “The Bells of Saint John,” and “Hide,” all at a decent-if-not-outstanding 6.5. “The Snowmen” finds the Doctor grieving the loss of his companions Amy and Rory by hiding out in Victorian London, while sentient snow threatens a family whose governess is one version of Clara Oswald. “The Bells of Saint John” brings the Doctor and Clara together properly with a story of a nefarious company stealing people’s minds through wi-fi. “Hide” is a ghost-hunting story with a time-travel twist.

All of these episodes have their strengths. “The Snowmen” does a better job playing with it’s Mary Poppins inspiration than “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” does with Narnia. It also allows Clara’s character plenty of room to breathe and brings back the ever-delightful Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax. “The Bells of Saint John” is a tightly-paced paranoia thriller with lots of good action (even though the wi-fi mind-stealing plot never makes the least bit of sense). “Hide” begins as an atmospheric haunted house story that slowly unfolds to reveal surprising layers of complexity. While they all could have done with a bit more development, there are satisfying moments in each.

There are also some good long-term developments this season. Curious, resourceful Clara is a much more enjoyable companion to watch than Amy the bully. There is also much less hero-worshiping of the Doctor than in previous seasons.

That’s our take on Doctor Who‘s seventh season. What’s yours? Do you have favorites (or unfavorites) this season? Let us know!

Image: Doctor Who Season 7 cover via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

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Some Random Thoughts on Avengers: Infinity War

In no particular order. Spoiler warnings in effect.

Eppu’s random thoughts:

I went in knowing nothing for sure and having read only non-spoilery impression pieces and bits of barely-even news. A heads-up: half-baked musings to follow, plus at least one f-bomb.

  • You must know the previous Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to follow the Avengers: Infinity War story—none of the characters or their histories are introduced. Which makes sense: the previous movies are all in their way leading to AIW, and there’s no way you could introduce everyone and still have enough time left for a new story. Good for fans, not so good for regular moviegoers.
  • Superhero stories aren’t fully my cup of tea, not like for instance Jane Austen is, but my inner nerd is very pleased to have such an unprecedented series of high-quality movies like this.
  • I knew AIW was going to be stuffed to the gills with details, dialog, and derring-do, and indeed it was. Yet, strangely, it felt like we were in a holding pattern throughout the movie. You can tell it’s just the first act of a two-parter.
  • I missed so many lines among the sound effects. How about some subtitling in the theaters, USA? They’re helpful for all sorts of people, not just the deaf and hard of hearing.
  • The death toll started climbing earlier and got higher than I thought, even before the ashing at the end.
  • The writers started pushing Vision and Wanda Maximoff together already in Civil War (which they also co-wrote) but I never could buy their relationship. It felt forced then, and it still feels forced in AIW.
  • My favorite scene is when Black Widow, Captain America, and Falcon turn up to help Scarlet Witch and Vision in Edinburgh. Such seamless teamwork—so awesome!
  • Another awesome thing: Spidey got a nano suit.
  • I know it’s not what the movie actually did, but there was so much of it that the fighting felt almost unending. On the other hand, they did a fairly good job balancing the multiple storylines / locations for such an overstuffed movie.
  • There’s still way too much Stark. Like Civil War, AIW‘s not supposed to be yet another Tony show but of course that’s what they’ve made it into. On the other hand, Iron Man and Doctor Strange worked pretty well together despite—or maybe due to?—both being rich entitled jerks. In a way, they almost canceled each other out.
  • Also, the annoying git otherwise known as Peter Quill was pleasantly diluted by the presence of so many other characters. That man-child needs to fucking grow up. (Unpopular opinion: the Guardians of the Galaxy movies barely made it to “Meh” and certainly didn’t rise beyond.)
  • AIW did some unusual character pairings that worked really well: Stark and Strange plus Thor and Rocket come immediately to mind. Rhodey and Sam had a few promising moments while handling air defence during the Wakandan fight, but it didn’t amount to much.
  • Sadly, pretty much all of the Black Panther characters felt tacked-on and not properly integrated. However, it was marvellous to be back in Wakanda. We barely saw Shuri, though, and that’s just plain wrong. (Imagine her and Peter Parker geeking about tech together!)
  • OMG, Nat and Okoye and Wanda teaming up! Give me a buddy movie for those three any day! And throw in Maria Hill, too, please!
  • Another great thing was the deliberate refusal to overuse the Hulk. Instead, they gave Banner a suit version of Veronica the Hulk-buster.
  • Others have noted this, too, but some of the special effects looked clunky and unfinished (especially next to the finished ones). Many of Proxima Midnight’s scenes were affected, for example. (Speaking of her—was anyone else reminded of demon hunters from WoW?)
  • Considering how much Doctor Strange did in his eponymous movie, he contributed seemingly little to the world’s defense. I suspect we’ll see a lot more of his magic in part 2; what shape that takes remains to be seen. Especially since so many popular characters were turned to ash (like Spider-Man who we know will return in a sequel of his own next year), we cannot but see a lot of un-ashing.
  • What ultimately turned me off reading super comics is what I call the escalation-squish cycle: the tendency to time and again up the stakes ridiculously high, kill or shelve multiple characters, destroy cities or planets or whatnot, and then undo everything with a gimmick of the month. There’s only so much of it that I can take. Unfortunately it seems MCU may be headed in that direction. I hope not.
  • Major grumble here: Whose stupid-ass idea was it at the this-really-is-the-end fight to have our heroes go at Thanos one at a time, in a stupid-ass single-file? They’re not that dumb. Stupid-ass, lazy railroading. *grumble!*
  • I knew beforehand that AIW would end with a cliffhanger. I guess I was expecting the ending to be a bit more explosive and not as quiet as it was.

In the end, AIW just wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. Here’s hoping part 2 will pick up the slack.

 

Erik’s random thoughts:

To a certain extent, it feels unfair to be critiquing Infinity War at this point, since we’ve only seen half the story. Still, my overall reaction is disappointment. There are some particular reasons for this feeling, which I’ll try to lay out here.

  • Most of the movie is spent watching characters flail around, trying to respond to a desperate situation and not accomplishing much. Even when it looks like one character or group of characters has taken a small step towards posing a meaningful challenge to Thanos, their gains are quickly nullified. While it’s true that some amount of failure is necessary for drama and there’s nothing interesting about watching heroes who only ever succeed, there’s nothing interesting about watching heroes who only ever fail, either.
  • A lot of the heroes’ failures feel unearned. Again, while it’s more common to complain about unearned successes, dramatically interesting failures need to be warranted by character and plot. Too much of the failure in Infinity War feels like it is driven by the writers’ desire to build up Thanos as a villain. It feels cheap.
  • Put these observations together with the fact that for there to be any MCU at all after part 2, much of what happened in part 1 will have to be undone, and a lot of the movie ends up feeling pointless. Why did we sit through all of this if none of it matters in the end?
  • Thanos is interesting as a villain. His motivating emotion is not anger or greed but sorrow and the desire to spare other people the anguish he and his planet went through. Still, we spent too much time listening to him monologue. In a movie already packed to overflowing with other characters, he took up too much air.
  • I never liked the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, but the way the team was written in this movie, I could see their appeal. Except for Peter Quill. He is still just as much of an impulsive, self-centered man-child as ever and I cannot stand one second of him. (To be fair, world events in recent years have severely depleted my patience with impulsive, self-centered man-children.)
  • For a movie that had such serious problems with its overall story, many of the individual scenes were beautifully written and perfectly acted. At the small scale, this movie works like a charm; it’s at the large scale that it falls flat.

Image: Avengers: Infinity War screenshot via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Our Top 5 MCU Movies to Date

Roxi tweeted a question, and we have answers!

 

Eppu here. My top five Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to date are:

  1. Black Panther
  2. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  3. The Avengers
  4. Captain America: Civil War
  5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

My honorable mention is a tie between Ant-Man (which surprised me positively but ultimately won’t make the list due to the annoyingly large serving of ham for a villain) and Thor: Ragnarok (Jeff Goldblum was a fun villain but he shouldn’t overshadow the rest of the fantastic ensemble).

I see quite a bit of Captain America on my list. I didn’t think I’d be team Cap. I have to say, though, there’s an appeal in stories of someone trying to re-gauge their moral compass in a fast-paced, fast-changing world they’re scrambling to understand. (Hold on. That sounds like I might be… middle-aged?!? *LOL*)

Our Fav MCU Movies Poster Collage Sm

 

Erik here. My top five are:

  1. Avengers
  2. Black Panther
  3. Captain America: The First Avenger
  4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  5. Spider-Man: Homecoming

All of these movies have a clear and relatively straightforward narrative concept which is backed up by excellent design, direction, and acting. They are also all definitively superhero movies, unlike some of the other Marvel movies which are heist capers, space operas, or character studies that happen to have superheroes in them. As a whole, I think Marvel’s cinematic corpus is stronger for having the variety, but the movies I like best are the ones that face the superheroism of their main characters head on. (Also, as much as I appreciate Iron Man’s role in getting the Marvel Cinematic Universe started and holding the first couple of phases together, there’s only so much Tony Stark I can take at one sitting.)

We suspect our lists will look quite different after this summer (with AIW now and Ant-Man and the Wasp due in July), but we’ll see.

Want to chime in?

Images via IMDB: Ant-Man. The Avengers. Black Panther. Captain America: Civil War. Captain America: The First Avenger. Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Spider-Man: Homecoming. Thor: Ragnarok.

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Call for Help: Where Is Miss Sherlock?

I saw Bay Alden tweet-share a trailer for a gender-swapped version of Sherlock Holmes set in modern Japan. It looks fascinating, so I had to dig up more. Here are the trailers I found:

MISS SHERLOCK Official Promo Trailer (HD) HBO Asia Original Series via JoBlo TV Show Trailers

MISS SHERLOCK – Japanese TV Series Trailer #2 via Seven on YouTube

MISS SHERLOCK – Japanese TV Series Trailer #3 (Official Trailer from HBO Asia) via Seven on YouTube

The show is co-produced by HBO Asia and Hulu Japan. The official description reads:

“MISS SHERLOCK pays homage to the classic by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes, with bold interpretations of the iconic characters, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. MISS SHERLOCK is set in modern day Tokyo and both lead characters are Japanese women – Dr. Wato Tachibana, a surgeon recently returned from a volunteer doctors’ mission in Syria and Sara Shelly Futaba, an investigation consultant to the police department who solves bizarre and difficult cases. Throughout the series, the pair solves mystery after mystery with Miss Sherlock’s extraordinary observation and reasoning skills.”

Miss Sherlock premiers on April 27, 2018.

Now for the part that I need help with. Does anyone know whether Miss Sherlock is available outside Japan? If so, are English subtitles available? I did find a mention (repeated elsewhere) that it can be viewed in the U.S. only via the HBO Go streaming app, but I haven’t found a confirmation by HBO or Hulu.

Anyone?

This post has been edited to correct a typo.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

Rating: Doctor Who, Season 6

Our rewatching and rating project carries on with season 6 of new-series Doctor Who. Here’s our ratings for this season’s episodes:

  1. “A Christmas Carol” – 7
  2. “The Impossible Astronaut” – 6
  3. “The Day of the Moon” – 7
  4. “The Curse of the Black Spot” – 4
  5. “The Doctor’s Wife” – 4.5
  6. “The Rebel Flesh” – 4
  7. “The Almost People” – 1.5
  8. “A Good Man Goes to War” – 6.5
  9. “Let’s Kill Hitler” – 6
  10. “Night Terrors” – 2
  11. “The Girl Who Waited” – 2
  12. “The God Complex” – 3.5
  13. “Closing Time” – 4
  14. “The Wedding of River Song” – 3.5

The average episode rating for this season is 4.4, which is a rebound from last season’s 3.7, but still well below the first four seasons.

This season has its good moments. The production team seems to have gotten a better handle on things and most of the episodes feel polished. The actors seem more comfortable in their roles and more willing to stretch their interpretations of the characters. A few episodes deliver new and creative stories. At the same time, a lot of this season feels underwhelming or poorly thought-out.

Our lowest-rated episode for the season, at 1.5, is “The Almost People,” the second part of a grimy industrial-punk story about goop-doppelgangers (goopelgangers?) gone rogue in a future acid-mining operation that for some reason happens in the remains of a medieval monastery. (Someone on the Who team clearly has a thing for goopelgangers: see season 4’s “The Sontaran Strategem” and “The Posion Sky.”) The first part was a bit nonsensical and left a lot of unanswered questions hanging (Why is acid-mining such a big deal in the future? Why use goopelgangers for it? Why are they in a medieval monastery? How did any of this get past health and safety, let alone the heritage council?), but at least it promised the possibility of a good old classic sci-fi “Who’s real?” and “What is the measure of a human?” story. The second part, though, just kind of falls apart and doesn’t pay off. Like last season’s “Flesh and Stone,” and “Cold Blood,” the second half of the story gets sidetracked into serving the season-long arc.

There are brights spots this season, though. Things start off at a strong 7 with an ingenious Christmas episode in which the Doctor finds himself traveling back in time to play Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future and save the soul of a heartless old plutocrat just in time to save a crashing spaceship with his friends Amy and Rory on board. A two-parter follows, “The Impossible Astronaut,” rated 6, and “The Day of the Moon,” another 7, about the Doctor’s friends trying to save the Doctor from being killed by a mysterious figure in a spacesuit and in the process discovering the sinister Silence, who erase themselves from the memory of anyone who sees them. These episodes are a good mix of horror, action, and comedy, and the Silence make interesting counterparts to the Weeping Angels: while the Angels disappear when you look at them, the Silence disappear when you look away.

Although this season has its ups and downs, it also has some larger problems. One is the ongoing obsession with an arc story, which gets significantly more convoluted in this season, sometimes to the detriment of what could have been decent stand-alone stories. New-series Doctor Who has a pretty bad track record when it comes to season-long arcs. Most of them feel obligatory and ratings-driven rather than organic and meaningful. Arc-dependent episodes have consistently been some of the worst, while the best episodes have been those that have nothing to do with the arc. I’d be happy to see Doctor Who stop trying to be Lost and focus on being Doctor Who.

Another problem, which appeared in earlier seasons but gets significantly worse over seasons 5 and 6, is the amount of time and narrative attention given to other characters talking about how great the Doctor is. It was used as a cheap get-out-of-plot-free card at the end of season 3’s “The Last of the Time Lords,” in which a world full of people thinking good thoughts about the Doctor powers the deus ex machina ending, but in season 6 it becomes a recurring theme as ubiquitous as the whooshing of the Tardis. Even River Song, who started off as a fascinating character in her own right, gets reduced to a chorus girl singing the “Oh, Doctor, you’re so amazing” refrain this season. This character shilling goes along with the continuing attitude that special people get a pass on basic human decency to make some scenes really uncomfortable to watch.

How do the rest of you feel about this season? Got any favorites (or anti-favorites) you want to share? We know that not everyone shares our tastes or out perspective on Doctor Who, so let us know in the comments what you loved or didn’t about this season.

Image: Doctor Who season 6 via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Doctor Who, Season 5

In between seasons 4 and 5 of new-series Doctor Who there is a series of specials starring David Tennant, but our copy of the discs turned out to be defective, so while we wait for a good opportunity to replace them, our rewatching and rating project carries on to season 5.

  1. “The Eleventh Hour” – 3
  2. “The Beast Below” – 3
  3. “Victory of the Daleks” – 4
  4. “The Time of the Angels” – 6
  5. “Flesh and Stone” – 1.5
  6. “The Vampires of Venice” – 2
  7. “Amy’s Choice” – 2
  8. “The Hungry Earth” – 5
  9. “Cold Blood” – 2
  10. “Vincent and the Doctor” – 5
  11. “The Lodger” – 4
  12. “The Pandorica Opens” – 5
  13. “The Big Bang” – 6

The average rating for this season is a rather dismal 3.7, a big come-down from season 4’s 6.9. Nothing rises above a ho-hum 6, and almost half the episodes this season rate less than a 4, which is pretty much our minimal cut-off for ever wanting to see an episode again.

This season of Doctor Who poses one big question, and that question is: what on Earth happened to Stephen Moffat?? Many of our favorite episodes of previous season were written by Moffat: “The Empty Child” / “The Doctor Dances” in season 1, “The Girl in the Fireplace” in season 2, “Blink” in season 3, “Silence in the Library” / “The Forest of the Dead” in season 4. All these episodes were intricately-constructed masterpieces in which every piece fit, every tantalizing question had a satisfying answer, and the gee-whizery of the sci-fi was balanced with sensitive emotional stories. We had great expectations for Moffat’s first season a showrunner, and instead we got… this? The writing is clunky, the plots are full of janky bits that don’t fit, the characters are unpleasant, and the whimsy feels forced. We wonder whether the demands of production didn’t leave him time to develop his scripts more fully, or if perhaps the quality of his earlier scripts depended in part on good editing by the previous production team.

The new cast doesn’t improve matters. We don’t care for Matt Smith’s interpretation of the Doctor, which relies too much on surface wackiness and feels emotionally hollow. But even worse is the new companion, Amy Pond, played by Karen Gillan. All credit to Ms. Gillan for her acting, but the character is written as a whiny, self-centered bully. Both of these characters reflect an unappealing turn in Moffat’s writing, also visible in his series Sherlock: the belief that if a person is very clever or otherwise special, they get a pass on basic human decency. That’s a position we can’t get behind.

The lowest-rated episode of this season is “Flesh and Stone,” at 1.5. It’s the second part after the rather decent “The Time of the Angels,” following the Doctor’s adventures with a band of futuristic warrior priests in an underground labyrinth filled with Weeping Angels. The first episode give us a reasonably good set-up which the second just fails to pay off. The momentum built up in the first part sputters out as the second part pays its dues to the season-long “crack in the universe” arc. The Weeping Angels were one of Moffat’s most interesting creations in “Blink,” but they would have been better left alone than recycled for this episode.

The best episodes, both at 6, are “The Time of the Angels” and “The Big Bang.” “The Big Bang” does a better job of delivering the old Moffat magic with a complicated time-woven story about the Doctor and his friends racing to stop the end of the universe that was set off in the previous episode. It has some good moments and finally gives Amy’s Stockholm Syndrome victim boyfriend Rory something to do, but it never quite rises to its potential.

All in all, a real let-down of a season for us, but we know there are other folks out there who feel differently, including fans of Amy Pond and Matt Smith’s Doctor. What episodes this season did you love (or not)? Let us know in the comments!

Image: Doctor Who season 5 via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Black Panther Reaction Links

Sharing links to and quotes from some reaction pieces on the Black Panther movie adaptation.

Brandon O’Brien at Tor.com: “Building Bridges: Black Panther and the Difference Between Rage and Revolution”

“[Nakia]’s been doing it all alone, with no backup, even insisting on not being disturbed as she trots about the globe, righting capitalist neo-imperialist wrongs through her own wits. Nakia sees the value of providing a more lasting sense of peace for the disenfranchised, and knows that the late stage of that goal requires the commitment of Wakanda—not to wage war on other countries, but to seek out the downtrodden and lift them up and out of struggle. In her first scene in the film, she even has the empathy to see a child soldier as a boy first and an aggressor second, preferring to send him back home than to fight him.”

 

Brandon O’Brien at Tor.com: “‘Who are you?’: Black Panther and the Politics of Belonging”

Black Panther, however, is a revolution. Not merely in the sense that “it is revolutionary to see blackness this way,” though it is. But also in the sense that this movie is a revolutionary dialogue. […]

“Most of the introductions in the film happen in a very particular way. When Wakandans ask each other ‘Who are you?’, it happens not with any distrust or confusion, but with a display of pride. They are asking you to confess yourself, to admit that you are one of their own with the gusto of someone who deeply values what that means. You get to be someone. You get to be.”

 

Bridget Boakye at Face 2 Face Africa: “The Legendary Dahomey Amazons Are the Real-Life All-Women’s Army in Black Panther

“In the 1800s, there was an all-female army in modern-day Benin that pledged a similar loyalty to the throne [as Dora Milaje did]. They were known as the Dahomey Warriors and were praised for their bravery and strength by local leaders and European colonizers alike who encountered them.”

 

Chika Oduah at The Root: “Audiences Across Africa Hail Black Panther for Humanizing Black Characters”

“For many Africans, the film brought to the big screen a reality that they see every day—the Basotho blankets the warriors used as a protective shield, the queen’s Zulu hat, the ochre-dyed locks of the Himba, the flowing fabrics of the Wolof. It was the sheer Pan-Africanism of it all that astounded me. The cinematic display of the diversity of Africanness was beautiful.”

 

Damon Young at Very Smart Brothas / The Root: “Yet Another Reason Why Shuri From Black Panther Is the Greatest Disney Princess Ever”

“In the last half of the movie alone, [Shuri] saved a man’s life—even if the man was ‘another broken white boy.’ She guided said primitive white boy on how to use the advanced technology she created, which ultimately helped save the entire planet from mass war and anarchy. And then she went out and literally fought (and held her own for a while) against a supervillain. Cinderella ain’t got shit on her. [original emphasis]”

 

Emily Asher-Perrin at Tor.com: “Why Are You Reading Reviews About Black Panther When You Could Be Watching Black Panther?”

“You could call it Shakespearean, you could call it mythic, but that’s not where the film lives. It’s not about the broad strokes, it’s about the details. It’s about all the little choices in concert, creating something brand new, and creating it on a scale that cinema has never seen before.”

 

Karlton Jahmal at Hot New Hip Hop: Black Panther‘s Killmonger Is the Best Supervillain Since The Dark Knight‘s Joker”

“[T]he emotion that Michael B. Jordan left me with was more powerful than anything I’ve felt at the movies. That painful rage, that feeling of angst that builds up when the topic of slavery or Jim Crown is brought up. That acrimonious tension that resonates in my gut when I see videos of police brutality or ignorant politicians fueling a race war. That feeling was replaced. A resolve, a euphoric feeling of relief spread from inside me instead.”

 

Liz Bourke at Tor.com: “Sleeps With Monsters: The Women of Black Panther Are Amazing”

“It’s also a film that, while it centres on a man—and on questions of kingship, legitimacy, and responsibility—is the first superhero film I’ve ever seen to surround its main male character with women who are in many ways equally powerful, and who don’t depend on him for purpose or characterisation. No, seriously: this is the first superhero film I’ve ever seen—maybe the first SFF film I’ve ever seen—where pretty much the hero’s entire back-up team, his entire support network, were women. Women who teased him and challenged him and demanded he do better.”

 

Samuel James at Black Girl in Maine: “The Reality of Blackness in the Fiction of Black Panther

“[…] Black Panther shows Black characters in an unusual way. In the movie, not only are we not drug dealers and pimps and rapists, we are intellectuals and leaders and heroes—but not only are we intellectuals and leaders and heroes, we multifaceted and complicated. We are human. Black Panther celebrates the humanity of Blackness.”

 

Shay Stewart Bouley at Black Girl in Maine: “A Film and the Affirmation of Blackness… My Musings on Black Panther

“In a world that centers all things white, whiteness and proximity to whiteness, a blockbuster film that centers Blackness and uplifts Black women is a much-needed paradigm shift. It is not just a new way to re-envision our world through the lens of Afro-futurism but it is also an opportunity to take stock of the Nakia’s, Okoye’s and Shuri’s who are already in our midst but who are often overlooked. I imagine a world where a Black woman won’t feel that she is traveling life without a roadmap as an anomaly but instead will know that she is another in a long line of changemakers because Blackness will not be relegated to the margins.”

 

Finally, a great video clip where co-writer and director Ryan Coogler breaks down a section of the casino fight scene:

Black Panther’s Director Ryan Coogler Breaks Down a Fight Scene | Notes on a Scene | Vanity Fair

(Our random thoughts on the movie are here.)

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Some Random Thoughts on Black Panther

In no particular order. Spoiler warnings in effect.

Erik’s random thoughts:

  • This is the movie that Thor was trying to be: a Shakespearean family drama about an exiled hero coming to terms with the destiny of his people and his father’s failures in the midst of a gorgeous futuristic city-state. (On a side note: does anyone actually remember the original Thor movie or have we collectively agreed that the franchise starts with number 3?)
  • I love the architecture of Wakanda. It looks like the product of thousands of years of African tradition with the highest of modern technology, just as it should.
  • Even for a fantasy of African exceptionalism, the story does not shy away from the bitter real history of imperialism, exploitation, slavery, and its modern-day consequences, and the movie is richer and stronger for it.
  • Shuri is awesome. Her combination of flippancy in the face of tradition, passion for technological tinkering, and powerful love for her family and home make her a delight to watch. I think she’s my favorite character in the whole movie, and that’s not an easy pick in this one.
  • Could we have T’Challa and Shuri take over the Tony Stark role in the Marvel Universe, please? I appreciate what Iron Man did to kickstart the MCU and hold the early installments together, but I’ve had enough of him now. I honestly don’t think I can handle one more movie about Tony Stark’s emotional issues. T’Challa can be the guy in the super suit who cracks wise while leading the fight and Shuri can be the tinkerer who keeps upgrading everybody’s gear.
  • Even in a franchise that includes a movie about waking up one morning to discover that literal Nazis have taken over the US government, Black Panther feels like the movie we most need in 2018: a meditation on the temptations of division, resentment, and revenge and the hard choice of embracing a flawed and fractured world with hope. As crucially as Black Panther contributes to the representation of black people in genre media—and by Bast it does—it has a lot to say outside the dialogue of race as well.
  • For the record: as a white man, I have no problem whatsoever identifying with the characters of this movie. I’m not talking about Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross, either—Zuri is my guy.

 

Eppu’s random thoughts:

Note: These thoughts are based on one viewing. I’m fully aware that some of them are just scratching the surface and that I need to see the move (at least!) a second time and mull things over properly.

  • If I had to use one word to describe Black Panther, on a meta level it would be confelicity: I am so, so, SO glad for those black people who are exited, overjoyed, and exhilarated over seeing a full cast of people that look like them acting with grace and agency, not minimized but celebrated! On a story level, I’d use equality.
  • I knew from reading non-spoiler reviews beforehand that the movie passes the Bechdel test, so I didn’t even bother tracking it. It was very nice not to have to care.
  • If it was nice not to have to care about whether the Bechdel test passes or not, it was outright GLORIOUS to see that WOMEN ARE PEOPLE in their own right, with their own interior lives, not just breasts and posteriors for men to ogle. And such a spread of different women, too, each doing their thing according to their interests and skills. Because that’s who we are, and what we do, and have done for millenia, and it’s damn time that the self-absorbed, able-bodied, white cis hetero men in Hollywood respected that. (Yes, I know that the Black Panther team behind the camera included many, many people of color, including women, but that’s not the default, is it.)
  • And of course it’s not just that women are people in their own right, but that there are so many diverse black women. Have you any idea what a disservice (to put it mildly) your typical Anglo-American fiction does to women of color, especially black women? I didn’t until I started paying attention. It’s atrocious and shameful.
  • Black Panther was visually beautiful. Beautiful! It was so beautiful my brain experienced a moment of “this looks wrong” when stepping out of the movie theater into the dim and snowless February evening in Massachusetts.
  • Also, the sets and costumes were breathtaking just like I thought. Everything looked like it was produced by a living culture, with layers of history and development alike.
  • OMG, the tech. Those dragonfly helicopters! Attack rhinos! I kinda want those 3d phone calls! No—scratch that. The maglev trains and über-advanced health care. Like now.
  • The opening sequence (T’Chaka voiceover telling a story to young T’Challa) and the end credit visuals I thought nodded back to the superhero fight statue end credits for Avengers: Age of Ultron. Yet neither ever lost sight of the fact that they were for and about Black Panther.
  • A superhero movie with a male lead confident and mature enough to listen to others ROCKS! (Hat tip to Justina Ireland for pointing out T’Challa’s ability to listen as a core personality trait.)
  • I liked Martin Freeman’s character Everett Ross in this movie. He started with “I know what I’m doing, piss off little people” claptrap. In Wakanda, however, he quickly—and without too much whining—realized how out of his depth he was and spent a good while looking and listening and learning. In the final battle, he redeemed himself to some extent in my eyes when he hopped back into the fighter jet holo-interface to destoy the final cargo plane after he’d discovered that the base he was sitting in was under attack and that there was less than a minute before the gunfire broke through. And never, ever was he written or played as a Mighty Whitey.
  • It was also good to see a thoroughly accomplished man (T’Challa) grapple with impostor syndrome (not ready to be King). We don’t see or hear much of that; mostly it’s women who are saddled with it in the public discussion.
  • I liked T’Challa’s relationship with the rest of his family members, but I LOVED every moment between him and Princess Shuri. They so clearly love and respect each other as equals—with different skill sets, sure, but equals nevertheless—plus jostle around like real-life siblings.
  • Finally, all of the acting was so good. I won’t miss Andy Serkis’s character. At. All! Props to Serkis, his incredible performance made the dude truly terrifying and disgusting, but I’d rather watch the competent and kind Africans, thank you.

Shuri and T'Challa gif

Images: Black Panther poster via IMDb. Shuri and T’Challa gif via media.riffsy.com.

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Doctor Who, season 4

Next up in our rewatch-and-rating project is Doctor Who (new series), season 4. Here’s what we thought:

  1. “Voyage of the Damned” – 7.5
  2. “Partners in Crime” – 9
  3. “The Fires of Pompeii” – 6
  4. “Planet of the Ood” – 6
  5. “The Sontaran Stratagem” – 6
  6. “The Poison Sky” – 5
  7. “The Doctor’s Daughter” – 4
  8. “The Unicorn and the Wasp” – 10
  9. “Silence in the Library” – 10
  10. “Forest of the Dead” – 10
  11. “Midnight” – 9
  12. “Turn Left” – 5
  13. “The Stolen Earth” – 4
  14. “Journey’s End” – 4.5

Season 4 is a brilliant one studded with fantastic episodes. The overall average for the season is an impressive 6.9, and even the lowest-rating episodes of the season are a couple of 4s—no real stinkers this time around. Part of what makes this season so great is the Doctor’s new companion, Donna. After pseudo-girlfriends Rose and Martha (who both had their moments—especially Martha), Donna and the Doctor are just chums traveling time and space, which makes for a fresh dynamic. Catherine Tate puts in a wonderful performance as Donna, letting us see the vulnerability and warmth of heart under her brassy exterior. She and David Tennant also play wonderfully off of one another in their comic scenes. There are also some ingenious episodes this season, making drama and terror out of things as mundane as shadows and repeated words.

The least successful episodes for us were “The Doctor’s Daughter” and “The Stolen Earth,” both coming in at 4. In “The Doctor’s Daughter,” the Doctor gets insta-sorta-cloned to produce a soldier daughter in a bog-standard sci-fi story about two warring races who have forgotten what they were fighting over in the first place. “The Stolen Earth” is the set-up to a two-parter about the Earth (and other planets, including, bafflingly, Clom) disappearing from space as part of a nefarious plot. Most of the episode is spent watching various familiar characters fail to do anything of any particular use. Both of these episodes have a shaggy-dog-story quality to them with an interesting set-up but not much in the way of payoff. Even the return of our beloved Martha in both of these episodes can’t elevate the limp writing.

But that’s okay, because we are spoiled with not one, not two, but three full 10s at the top of the list. First there’s “The Unicorn and the Wasp,” a delicious romp that brings us Agatha Christie with a giant alien wasp twist. This episode manages the difficult task of snort-guffawing it’s way through all the tropes of the English country house mystery while still creating a powerful emotional story around Christie’s famous disappearance and amnesia. Then there’s “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead,” a stunning two-parter that poses a complicated mystery with a powerful and satisfying resolution. The Doctor and Donna arrive in a planet-sized library to find it empty of people, but filled with shadows that can kill. After a perilous adventure and the slow unraveling of the library’s secrets, we end with a touching story about the lengths we will go to for the people we love. This episode is also noteworthy for introducing Professor River Song, marvelously played by Alex Kingston. A couple of time-travelers, the Doctor here meets River for the first time, just as she is meeting him for the last time.

Honorable mention goes to “Partners in Crime,” at 9, in which Donna and the Doctor run into each other while investigating the same shady weight-loss company, and “Midnight,” a claustrophobic horror story about a mysterious force copying people’s words.

There are lots of other Doctor Who fans out there, and you may have different takes on this season’s highs and lows. We’d love to hear about it. Feel free to share which episodes of season 4 you loved or didn’t.

Images: Doctor Who season 4 via IMDb; Donna and the Doctor via Send me to the Stars; River Song via Everything is Topsy Turvy!

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Doctor Who, Season 3

Time moves ever onwards and so do we. Here’s our take on Doctor Who (new series) season 3:

  1. “The Runaway Bride” – 5.5
  2. “Smith and Jones” – 9.5
  3. “The Shakespeare Code” – 7.5
  4. “Gridlock” – 6
  5. “Daleks in Manhattan” – 6
  6. “Evolution of the Daleks” – 4
  7. “The Lazarus Experiment” – 1
  8. “42” – 10
  9. “Human Nature” – 6
  10. “The Family of Blood” – 7.5
  11. “Blink” – 10
  12. “Utopia” – 4
  13. “The Sound of Drums” – 2.5
  14. “The Last of the Time Lords” – 3

Season 3 is a roller coast ride with some incredible highs, a few real lows, and a lot of good solid episodes in between. The average rating for the season is 5.9, a good showing and a noticeable increase from the previous two seasons, at 5.3. This season brings us Martha, a medical student with a good head on her shoulders and our all-time favorite companion. We also see David Tennant’s acting chops as he gets to play not just the Doctor but also an absent-minded schoolmaster and a murderous sun (yes, a sun). After some wobbly writing in previous seasons, this season gets more of a grip on how to balance the whimsical aspects of the show with its serious side.

The low point of the season is “The Lazarus Experiment” at a dismal 1, about a rejuvenation device that goes horribly wrong and turns its creator into a bad CGI scorpion thing. There are so many problems with this episode, from laggy pacing to a plot that is nonsensical even by Doctor Who‘s generous standards. Too much time is spent on Dr. Lazarus, a shallow stereotype of a bitter old man that we are apparently meant to find deep and engaging (and of course he’s called Dr. Lazarus—we couldn’t have a character who wants to restore his lost youth not be called Dr. Lazarus, could we?). Even a “reverse the polarity” callback gag can’t save this episode.

At the other end of the scale, there are two absolute standout episodes this season, both rating a full 10. The first is “42,” an intense and emotional thriller about a spaceship under attack by a killer star, whose predicament turns out to be more complex than at first appears. Everything in this episode is at its best: the fast-paced plot that still finds time for Martha to reflect on her time with the Doctor, the guest cast who even in their brief screen time bring life and depth to their space-trucker characters, and the music, which gives us one of the tenth Doctor’s most thrilling themes.

Burn With Me via DoctorWhoInfinity

And then there’s “Blink,” an episode like no other. The Doctor and Matha appear only sporadically in this one, and instead we follow Sally Sparrow as she slowly unravels the mystery of the Weeping Angels. This episode does ingenious things with time travel (a surprising rarity in a show about a time traveler), including messages left on the walls of an old house under peeling wallpaper and a long-distance conversation via DVD Easter egg. It is also a masterful demonstration that you don’t have to have violence or gore to be absolutely terrifying. This is an episode that rewards watching over and over again—just not late at night when you’re alone in the house.

Honorable mention goes to “Smith and Jones,” at 9.5, which introduces Martha with a story about an alien killer hiding in a London hospital—taken to the moon. We see Martha in action as a level-headed problem-solver while David Tennant gets to deliver some goofy comedy.

We know there are lots of other Doctor Who fans out there, and some of you have different takes on this season and its episodes. We’d love to hear about it. Let us know which episodes of season 3 you loved or didn’t.

Image: Doctor Who Season 3 via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.